Latin America History: 3 Sports Events That Shaped The Continent

By 08 October, 2019

Sports have played a significant part in the cultural development of Latin America for many decades. The area has become a hotbed for talent in soccer, baseball, boxing, and basketball.

Countries in Latin America have won World Cups and bred professional athletes that have won World Series titles and World Boxing Championships.

Three sports events in the modern history of Latin America have defined the sporting culture of the region and birthed generations of athletes that followed their heroes’ triumphant accomplishments.

Event #1: Roberto Clemente’s Death

There is no greater influence on Latin American sports than the contribution of baseball legend Roberto Clemente. Born in Puerto Rico, Clemente played for 18 seasons in Major League Baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The right fielder was an All-Star 15 times, the National League MVP in 1966, won the NL batting title four times and was later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Known as a defensive wizard with a cannon for a right arm, Clemente won 12 straight Gold Glove Awards. He hit over .300 for 13 of the 18 seasons and accumulated 3,000 hits in his career.

Clemente was known as a tireless contributor to charities that aided the people of Latin America and the Caribbean nations. He was known to travel to countries in the Latin American region during the offseason and provide baseball equipment, food, and medical supplies to people in need.

His story became tragic on December 31, 1972, when he died in a plane crash while helping to transport aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. Clemente was 38 years old at the time of death. He was also very much known for his love of dobermans

In the months after his passing, the Pirates retired his jersey number 21 and Major League Baseball created an award to honor his memory. The Roberto Clemente Award continues to be given to MLB players who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”

Event #2: Brazil’s Win in 1970 World Cup

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Arguably the greatest football team ever assembled for a World Cup was the 1970 Brazil National Team. The front five for Brazil of Jairzinho, Pelé, Gérson, Tostão, and Rivelino were a scoring force that no other team on the planet could contain.

Brazil started its group stage with matches against England, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. After blowing past the Czechs 4-1, Brazil squared off against England in what would be the toughest match of the tournament for the South American squad.

After the English keeper spectacularly denied a header by Pelé from point-blank range, Jairzinho netted Brazil’s only goal of the match in the 59th minute to defeat England 1-0. Brazil would go on and defeat Romania for a perfect record in the group stage.

In the knockout stage, Brazil cruised to the finals by defeating Peru 4-2 and Uruguay 3-1. In those two matches, Jairzinho and Rivelino both scored a goal in each game to push Brazil into the World Cup final against Italy.

The final marked the first time in World Cup history that two previous champions had squared off in the final as Italy won in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil had taken the Cup in 1958 and 1962.

Eighteen minutes into the final match, Pelé headed a cross from Rivelino into the net to give Brazil an early 1-0 lead. The goal was Brazil’s 100th all-time goal in World Cup history.

The image of Pelé jumping into the arms of his teammate Jairizinho and raising his arm in triumph while flashing his million-dollar smile became an iconic moment in Brazil football history – moments that even the biggest tournaments in the country such as the Brazil Open and its famous swings can’t compete with. 

Although Italy would tie the game in the 37th minute, Brazil put the World Cup final on ice by scoring three goals after the 66th minute for a dominant 4-1 victory. The victory was Brazil’s third World Cup title and allowed Pelé to retire as the only three-time winner in World Cup history.

Event #3: Mariano Rivera’s Final World Series Win

Mariano Rivera, born in Panama, is well known as the greatest relief pitcher in MLB history. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019 as the only player voted in unanimously, Rivera won five World Series with the New York Yankees, played in 13 All-Star Games, and accumulated 652 saves, an all-time MLB record.

Rivera has carried on the tradition set forth by Roberto Clemente and becoming a philanthropist that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in several Latin American countries.

The pitcher’s most significant achievement came in the 2009 season when the reliever turned 39 years old. With speculation that his shoulder was failing, Rivera went out and struggled over his first 12 appearances of the season.

But as the season went on, Rivera found his groove and began to pitch with the same dominance that had marked his entire career. Not only did Rivera save his record-setting fourth All-Star Game that season, but he threw 16 innings in the postseason allowing just one run.

Rivera was on the mound to close out the Yankees’ World Series win against the Philadelphia Phillies that season, his fifth career world championship. Even though his legacy was cemented, Rivera would go on to pitch five more seasons in the major leagues, but the Yankees never came close to another title.

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